Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NBA LESSONS: v5.1


Felipe M

Game 1 of the NBA Playoff match-up between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat took a surprising turn as the short-handed Bulls upset the Heat in Miami on Monday night.  But if one were to take a closer look at the team statistics after the game, fans shouldn't have been that surprised as the Bulls have found ways to compete with, and even beat, the Miami Heat (minus one blowout) during the regular season with a similar formula for success.

As a Bulls' fan, I know better than to rely too heavily on regular season success.  However, we've seen the Heat struggle against the better, rebounding clubs in the NBA.  I even went as far as saying that "poor rebounding teams get exposed in the playoffs."  Sure enough, that's what happened in Game 1.  However, before we look too deep into Game 1, let's take a look at how both teams have fared against each other in the Regular Season to see if there's a pattern that we should be noticing.

Here is the first match-up of the regular season:

Team
Score
3PT%
FT M-A
FT%
Total Rebs
Off Rebs
Pts in Paint
Chicago
96
35.7%
19-24
79.2%
48
19
46
Miami
89
25%
24-31
77.4%
28
4
34

As the score will indicate, this was a very close game.  The rest of the stats will prove that as FG%, Assists, Turnovers, etc. are pretty even.  However, as the table will show, despite the Heat attempting 31 free throw attempts, seven more than the Bulls (this stat is always a concern because of their three superstars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh and a tendency for officials to give them more foul calls), the Bulls, as I explained back in January, simply out-worked the Heat in rebounds and points in the paint.  The Bulls also shot a lot better from 3-point range, which would solidify their victory in Miami.  Nevertheless, the hard work done in the paint and in the glass against a seemingly, more finesse Heat team is the blueprint to victory.

Unfortunately for the Bulls in the second match-up, the Heat were looking for revenge and made Chicago look like "Lambs at the Slaughter":


Team
Score
FG%
FT%
Persnl Fouls
Stls + Blocks
TOs
Pts in Paint
Miami
86
50.7%
64.3%
15
20
17
38
Chicago
67
37.3%
81.8%
15
14
26
38

The Heat were hitting on all cylinders in the 2nd game, but despite the impressive field goal percentage, the Heat only scored 86 points.  However, their defense actually showed up in this game, as the allowed only 26 points combined in the 2nd and 4th quarter of this game.  The Heat controlled the tempo on offense.  One thing worth nothing is the high FT% that the Bulls shot.  This would be a recurring theme as the Bulls, despite getting lesser attempts at the line, would go on to dominate in terms of percentage.  

I spoke of the Heat controlling the game's tempo, but as one will notice, personal fouls called were distributed evenly.  Favoritism, in this regard, has not been shown to the Heat, but it's worth noting that of the four regular season games, the 30 combined fouls were the lowest called in their games.  The other three games always had a minimum of 35 fouls called combined by both teams.  Perhaps the lowered fouls called proved to benefit the Heat's preference to run up-and-down the court (again, "tempo").  

As mentioned, the Heat's defense came to play in this game as they were the more aggressive team on the defensive side, accumulating more blocks and steals and creating more turnovers.  The Heat would continue to dominate the "Steals+Blocks" category for the rest of this series.  However, despite the defensive prowess, the Bulls scored 57% of their points from the paint area.  Another recurring theme as this should be a red flag for a Miami Heat team that's had a reputation for being a perceived finesse team with no formidable defensive big man in the middle (Bosh, it seems, is not the answer).  So despite actually tying the Bulls in this category, the Heat settled for more jump shots (again, finesse) that were going in at a higher rate.  Nevertheless, all the jump-shooting meant less free throw attempts (only 14 in this game).  Despite the blowout, this game was more indicative of the Bulls' struggles on offense at this juncture of the season.  The way the Heat were playing, the results should have been a lot worse for the Bulls, but they only lost by 19 points.

One of the most exhilarating games of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Bulls found a way to end the Heat's 27-game winning streak.  Not only did the Bulls win, but they won without the heart, soul, leader, and big presence in the middle, Joakim Noah:


Team
Score
FT M-A
FT%
Tot Rebs
Off Rebs
Asts
Pts in Paint
Miami
97
16-23
69.6%
31
6
15
54
Chicago
101
13-18
72.2%
43
12
27
40


The Heat were awarded more FT attempts, but not by a large margin.  And once again, they shot worse than the Bulls from the charity stripe.  If the Heat would have shot better from the line, perhaps the result would have been different.  Not listed on the table is that the Heat, again, dominated steals + blocks, but only had a +5 on the turnover margin.  They did a good job of controlling the ball and not making mistakes on the offensive end.  Unfortunately for them, it only produced 15 assists.  

However, the Bulls' win can be attributed to going after the Heat's weakness: dominating the glass.  Even though they took care of the ball, the Heat found it hard to get the ball back.  Twelve offensive rebounds for the Bulls means more time to kill off the clock by regaining ball possession and less of a chance for the Heat to score.  Fouls were called pretty evenly and a total of 35 were called in this game.  Again, the Bulls might benefit from more fouls being called as it slows down the Heat's uptempo style.  

Finally, the Heat did a good job scoring 54 points in the paint--with no Joakim Noah there to clog the middle, defensively.  Before this game, the Heat only averaged 36 points in the paint against the Bulls.  The fact that the Bulls were able to score 40 in the paint (42 points in the paint/game in the first two games against the Heat) without the services of Noah speaks volumes.

So inadequate free throw shooting along with terrible rebounding ended the Heat's historic winning streak.  For the finale, the Heat would avenge this loss, but not in a very impressive way:


Team
Score
FG%
3-PT%
FT%
Tot Rebs
Off Rebs
Pts in Paint
Chicago
93
35.4%
42.3%
77.4%
45
11
24
Miami
105
51.4%
35.3%
65.9%
44
4
44


It is worth prefacing that both Noah and Taj Gibson were out for this game and the Bulls still managed to keep this game close.  The Heat won on the strength of their shooting, but the Bulls were able to keep it close with their free throw and 3-point shooting.  Despite having 10 more free throw attempts than the Bulls (41-31), Chicago still shot a better percentage from the line.  

Rebounds were pretty even without Gibson and Noah, but the Bulls still managed to grab 11 offensive rebounds.  And the Heat's "Big 3" played for more than 31 minutes/player so that's pretty inexcusable.  At least they dominated the paint by outscoring Chicago by 20, but that's like me getting 20 more points against a five-year old guarding me in the paint.  

Which brings us to Game 1:


Team
Score
FG%
3-PT%
FT%
Tot Rebs
TOs
Pts in Paint
Chicago
93
43.7%
38.9%
82.8%
46
15
40
Miami
86
39.7%
29.2%
68%
32
8
32


What do you see?  The same formula that the Bulls have been using to be successful against the NBA Champions.  This time, however, the Bulls were shooting the ball better than the Heat.  Usually, the Heat have the advantage in the shooting department, or at worst for them it's pretty even, but the Bulls have not shot the ball better than the Heat.  Add to that the Heat's woeful 3-pt and FT%; if Miami just makes one more 3-pointer or hits a few more free throw shots, we might be talking about a different result.  

One will also notice that the Heat took extremely good care of the ball in this game.  Also, the offensive rebounds were pretty equal.  Nevertheless, the same recipe that help defeat the Heat in two out of the four regular season games is in full effect in this playoff game--Bulls outrebounded Miami by 14.  You add the fact that the Bulls, once again, dominated points in the paint and that pretty much sums up the Bulls' formula in defeating the Heat in this series: control the glass, control the paint.  Chicago will not outplay the Heat in the perimeter and will not win a shootout (at least not often) against them either.  The Bulls have to do the two things they have done well against the Heat this year--glass and paint.  

Again, many people were dismissing the Heat's rebounding struggles in the regular season by justifying that they would be ready for the playoffs.  Although the Heat have held their own in the rebounding department this postseason, they finished dead last in rebounds per game and were among the worst teams in the rebound differential category as well.  As mentioned before in early January, "poor rebounding teams get exposed in the playoffs."  If the Heat don't correct that part of their game soon, their chances to repeat as champions will disappear.  Because if they're struggling against the Bulls now, what happens in the event that they have to face the Indiana Pacers in the next round?  Why the Pacers?  Because they finished as the best rebounding team in the NBA.  

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